North Texas has struggled mightily at times this season to get anything going offensively, especially when it needs to execute in the halfcourt.
Those times were nothing but a distant memory Saturday night.
UNT appeared as if it would hit just about anything it threw up in the opening moments of its game against Florida International at the Super Pit.
What started out as a hot streak turned into a historic performance for the Mean Green in a slump-busting 77-67 win.
UNT set a school record by shooting a sizzling 75 percent from the floor while snapping a five-game losing streak.
“That is an unbelievable stat,” UNT coach Tony Benford said. “I have never been a part of a game when a team shot 75 percent. That is really impressive. I am really proud of these guys.”
The previous school record for field goal percentage in a game was 67.4 percent set in an 86-62 win over Sam Houston State in 1995.
What made the performance all the more important for UNT (9-17, 4-11 Sun Belt) is that it likely will provide confidence for a team that has been wildly inconsistent throughout the year.
UNT scored only 45 points in a win over Southeastern Louisiana earlier in the season and entered Saturday coming off a dismal offensive outing in a 70-59 loss to Western Kentucky on Thursday.
UNT looked nothing like that team in its win over FIU (13-11, 8-7).
UNT’s Roger Franklin scored 21 points while hitting five of his eight shots from the floor, not to mention all 11 of his free throws. Alzee Williams added 15 points while hitting all but one of his seven shots from the floor, and Jordan Williams went 4 for 6 and also finished with 15 points.
Tony Mitchell spent much of the night in foul trouble, but went a perfect 4 for 4 on his way to nine points.
Mitchell played just 22 minutes, which forced UNT to adjust offensively, something the Mean Green has been trying to do all season.
“What coach Benford has been stressing to us is that after you make the pass, you have to move, pass and make the next play for the next guy,” Franklin said. “Tony is very unselfish. Some of these other guys are starting to step up. We are making the right plays at the right time.”
UNT lost its best playmaker in point guard Chris Jones to a broken foot in a loss to Western Kentucky on Dec. 29 and has been forced to get more out of its set offense in halfcourt situations.
That has been a struggle at times.
It wasn’t against the Golden Panthers. UNT finished with 13 assists on 24 field goals.
“We shared the ball and everyone pitched in,” Alzee Williams said. “That is what got us over the hump. That is the way we are going to have to play. We have to share the ball.”
Tymell Murphy scored 23 points and Deric Hill added 15 for FIU, which forced UNT into 21 turnovers. That was not a surprise considering the Golden Panthers came into the night ranked 11th nationally with an average of 9.8 steals a game, largely due to an effective full-court press.
Once UNT got through that press, it either took easy shots on the fastbreak or settled in and worked effectively against FIU’s zone.
“As far as our execution tonight, we did a tremendous job,” Benford said. “We didn’t settle and focused on getting paint touches. Against that zone, we got the ball into the paint, were aggressive and finished plays.”
UNT was on fire from the start and led 41-35 at halftime after shooting 78.9 percent (15-for-19) from the field.
Alzee Williams hit all five of his shots in first half, and he wasn’t the only player who was perfect from the floor. Mitchell hit all four of his shots.
Roger Franklin went 2-for-4 from the floor but hit all seven of his free throws.
UNT was particularly effective during a 9-0 run in the first half that broke open a close game and put the Mean Green up for good.
UNT led 20-18 before Alzee Williams hit a layup and a jumper. Mitchell followed with a dunk and a 3-pointer that put the Mean Green up 29-18.
“That got us off to a good start,” Alzee Williams said of the run. “After that we just had to maintain the lead and finish.”
UNT had struggled to do just that during its losing streak, falling in overtime at Arkansas State and seeing Western Kentucky run away for a 70-59 win after it had come back late to tie the score.
“It’s huge,” Benford said of breaking through. “What I am proud of is that they haven’t given up. We are working on skill work and are getting a lot of shots up. We are playing to win every game and get better every day. The team that is playing well at the end of the month will have a chance to win the conference tournament.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
North Texas 77, Florida International 67
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (13-11, 8-7) — Frink 2-7 1-1 5, Murphy 10-12 2-2 23, Akomolafe 1-5 0-0 2, Hill 4-9 4-5 15, Smith 1-6 2-3 4, Porcher Jimenez 2-5 2-2 7, Bell 2-6 4-5 9, Ferrales 0-1 2-2 2. Totals 22-51 17-20 67.
NORTH TEXAS (9-17, 4-11) — T. Mitchell 4-4 0-0 9, Stojiljkovic 3-4 2-2 8, Franklin 5-8 11-11 21, Hardwick 2-3 5-5 9, J. Williams 4-6 6-10 15, A. Williams 6-7 3-4 15, A. Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0, Overlander 0-0 0-0 0, Coleman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-32 27-32 77.
Halftime — UNT 41-35. Three-point goals — FIU 6-15 (Frink 0-1, Murphy 1-2, Akomolafe 0-2, Hill 3-3, Smith 0-4, Porcher Jimenez 1-2, Bell 1-1), UNT 2-4 (Mitchell 1-1, Franklin 0-1, J. Williams 1-2). Fouled out — Frink, Hill. Rebounds — FIU 14 (Murphy 5), UNT 28 (Mitchell 6). Assists — FIU 5 (Murphy, Akomolafe 2), UNT 13 (Stojiljkovic, Franklin 3). Total fouls — FIU 20, UNT 16. A — 5,497.